It happens every year. The arrival of the holidays brings too much food and too little physical activity. It is a time of accelerated weight gain and it’s a risky period for kids in general, and in particular for kids who are overweight to start with.
With the number of obese children in America at three to four times 1980 levels, one of the best places to begin combatting weight gain is in the home. A good time to start changing habits is around the holidays. This is when kids are spending extra time in the home, and both eating and sitting around can get out of control.
Here are some simple measures:
Keep unhealthy foods out of the house
Don’t bring home high-risk foods – foods you know aren’t good for you but that are most difficult for you and your children to resist. If you can keep them out of the home you won’t be tempted to eat them. If they somehow sneak into the house, make sure they are stored out of sight. If they are going to be left out and about, keep them in opaque containers with a lid. Unhealthy foods should be out of direct vision and direct access.
Make healthier foods readily available
Cut up fresh fruits and vegetables and have them readily available and easy to eat – either on the counter or in the refrigerator. Another effective strategy is to fill up on vegetables, salads or fruit at the beginning of a meal. For dessert, try serving a selection of sliced fresh fruits alongside the pumpkin and apple pies.
Create new family traditions … and watch the holiday screen time
Families often spend too much time focusing on food during holiday celebrations and the days after. Parents need to come up with new annual holiday traditions to share with their kids, like playing soccer, playing football or taking a family bike ride. Plan activities to keep children from overdoing their screen time and keep it to no more than seven hours per week. This can be particularly important during the holidays when kids are out of school and at risk of spending hours and hours watching television or playing on computers, video games and phones. Active traditions like this are easy to organize and fun and a family tradition to look forward to even more than the practice of overeating until you are uncomfortable.
Finally, if you are in the house, stay out of the kitchen
The kitchen has become a focal point of many homes, which has resulted in regular grazing of food and, not surprisingly, bulging waistlines. Engaging in activities in a room that is out of sight of the kitchen will lead to less snacking.
People often look for mysterious answers about why a particular child has a weight problem but, in general, it’s pretty simple. It’s the obvious stuff, like eating too many unhealthy foods, these days those foods are in the form of sodas and potato/tortilla chips.
Splurging for one holiday day won’t be the end of the world. But don’t do it again the next day or throughout the holiday season. Planning ahead and moderating our behaviors during the holidays can lead to healthier behaviors throughout the year.